I pretty much ignore all things Facebook (because I can!), but I do want to comment on the blatantly unethical study of newsfeed algorithms.
My ire is focused on both the researchers and on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences for engaging subjects in research without their knowledge and consent (the former) and not flagging this lack of consent in their publication (the latter).
Since the promulgation of the Nuremburg Code following the trial of Nazi doctors, informed consent has been a cornerstone of research ethics. The World Medical Association followed with its own guidelines in the early 1960s (revised many times since), and in 1974, the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now Health & Human Services) promulgated 45 CFR 46 (also updated numerous times); the US regs were later reinforced by the Belmont Report.
My point is, these rules are not new, and any social scientist trained or working in in the US (Adam Kramer received his PhD from the University of Oregon, and Jamie Guillory and Jeffrey Hancock work at UC San Francisco and Cornell University, respectively) should know the basics of them.
And the most basic of the basics about these rules is the necessity of obtaining informed consent from potential research subjects.
You don’t get to say, as Kramer did in a recent Facebook post,
Having written and designed this experiment myself, I can tell you that our goal was never to upset anyone. I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety.
and expect that your emotional sorriness makes up for your ethical sorriness.
Not that Kramer even gets the ethical problem: he’s sorry for the way the paper described the research and sorry that the results did not justify the anxiety, but nowhere is he sorry for violating the dignity of his subjects.
Which, by the way, is the whole point of the regs: the recognition and protection of the dignity of human beings.
And PNAS? Shame on them for publishing such egregiously unethical work.
h/t Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic, for Kramer’s Facebook link